Unit 17: The Great Depression

The dark years of the Great Depression began when the soaring economy of the 1920s took a nose dive in 1929. Americans were not prepared for the financial crisis. Those who were speculating & “making a killing” on Wallstreet, trying to get rich quick by playing the Stock Market in the short term, were hit with a grim reality in October of 1929.

To teach the Great Depression to high school students requires them to understand how the stock market works. When I was teaching, I had our Economics teacher come in as a guest speaker and give students a primer on the Stock Market.

So, in the Fall of 1929 people saw the stock market begin to dip slightly. They panicked and started selling their shares causing stock values to plummet. This rendered thousands upon thousands of businesses worthless. Overnight, businesses had to close down and lay off workers. As a result inflation went through the roof. Not only did people lose their jobs, but now they could barely afford to buy food!

The effect did not confine itself within the United States, either. Since many businesses had overseas interests, the crash of ’29 rippled throughout the entire world. When the 1930s began, wage cuts and increasing unemployment brought Americans to their knees.

Excellent teachers know how to get their students to empathize. Encourage students to ask questions like, How did the American people of the 1930s deal with all of this?

Many who lost fortunes in the stock market committed suicide. Others who could no longer support their families, left to find work elsewhere. Teenagers, especially, had it hard. They were old enough to work and help their families, but no work was available. They saw themselves as a burden and an extra mouth to feed.

As a result, many left home looking for employment and opportunity elsewhere. They jumped trains from coast to coast, risking their lives.

The fact that a severe drought hit the Midwest at this time was like pouring salt in a wound. Farmers lost entire years’ worth of crops and on top of that, crop prices dropped like bowling balls.

But Americans survived the Great Depression. Determination and help from a new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, turned the country around. Roosevelt, elected in 1932, created countless government programs that altered the role of government in American society forever.

Among the many programs Roosevelt created, the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) was phenomenal. Teenagers and young adults all over the country were put to work in national forests, rebuilding and cleaning. They were given room and board on camps in the national forests and were required to send home a percentage of their earnings to their families.

Unit 17 offers the regular PowerPoint presentation along with a presentation discussing how young people in America hit the trains and rode the rails to better opportunities. A Diary project that ignites student imagination is featured to supplement the unit. There is also another PowerPoint with photographs of the Great Depression in which students must analyze these primary sources.

There are many spectacular films and literature related to this unit. Two perfect books which have also been made in great movies include The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, both by John Steinbeck. For more ideas, visit our Teach with Movies or our Teach with Literature page.

I introduce every new unit to my students with a list of significant key terms that students must define & use in a comprehensive sentence.

Use this PowerPoint presentation of 53 slides to teach your students unit 17.

A complete set of Fill-in-the-Notes for your students. Once you place your order, you will recieve the presentation via email. Simply download the presentation, print the slides (six per page) and give each student a copy.

This fantastic assignment is based on primary sources from the Library of Congress. Primary souces are excellent teaching tools because they lend a voice to peoples of the past, allowing students to connect to history on a personal level.

Online scavengar hunts are always a bit hit because while students research and learn, they are engaged in the game/challenge of finding the information.

Studying and analyzing historical photographs is another way for kids to learn. This PowerPoint presentation offers nearly 40 photographs of the Great Depression!

This assignment accompanies the Photo Analysis PowerPoint above. Here, students identify key features of photographs and learn to analyze photographical primary sources in order to understand history.

This PowerPoint presentation teaches students how teenagers during the Great Depression coped, most leaving home to look for employment elsewhere.

A complete set of Fill-in-the-Notes for the PowerPoint above. Simply place an order, download the presentation, print the slides (six per page) and give each student a copy.

Here is an amazing project that requires students to pretend they are living through the Great Depression in the 1930s, creating authentic-looking journals they would have kept as they began their adventure riding the rails.

A grading rubric for the project above.

The following are primary sources written by people who were teenagers during the Great Depression. These letters are to be used with the above project, giving students an overall understanding of the feelings, fears, hopes, and thoughts of teenagers at the time. Have your students read and pass around these letters so that everyone gets a chance to read them all.

A study guide to help prepare students for the end-of-unit exam. Making this a mandatory assignment helps students do better on the test.

This test covers all the material in the unit; it is a combination of term matching, multiple choice, short answer recall, and questions that require essay answers.

Return from the Great Depression to American History


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